Sunday, 25 Feb 2018 - 10 of Adar, 5778

Is the EU abandoning the idea of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in favor of a multilateral approach ?

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BRUSSELS —Norway and the European Union will convene Wednesday in Brussels an extraordinary session of the international donor group for Palestine, the so-called Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, ‘’to bring all parties together to discuss measures to speed up efforts that can underpin a negotiated two-state solution.’’

The meeting, to be held at ministerial level, will be hosted by the European Union and chaired by Norway. It will take place in the Berlaymont, theEuropean Commission headquarters.

The AHLC was established in 1993 to coordinate development assistance for the Palestinian people. The 15 member body includes the members of the Quartet: the UN, the EU, Russia and the United States.

Other members include Canada, Egypt, Japan, Jordan, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.Israel will be represented at the meeting by Tsachi Hanegbi, Minister for Regional Cooperation.

It is one of the few high level forums in which Israeli and Palestinian officials cooperatively meet. It often meets twice a year; the last such gathering was held in September in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Earlier this month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met the 28 EU’s Foreign Ministers and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels. In December, the ministers met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

During his meeting, Abbas sought EU recognition of a ”state of Palestine” within the 1967 borders with eastern Jerusalem as its capital as well as an increase of the EU financial aid as the US has said it plans to halt financial support to the Palestinian Authority and has severely curtailed its funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency which provides humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.

But most important, the PA chief sought to sideline US President Trump’s role in the Middle East process over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to ask the EU take over the lead.

He apparently succeeded to convince EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini that the best way to go forward in the peace process is through a multilateral approach of a two-state solution and not via direct negotiations like Israel is constantly demanding.

Is the EU seeking to play a central role in the peace process ? 

She first told the Palestinian leader that Europe supports his plan to make East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. She continued: ‘’We reaffirmed – and I was glad to see the Palestinian side was agreeing with that- our conviction that the framework has to be multilateral. We will continue to work within the Middle East Quartet – which means with our partners, the United States, the United Nations and Russia-, enlarging this to a few Arab countries and possibly to Norway,’’ Federica Mogherini told a press conference after the meeting with Abbas.

She added : ‘’It seems to me clear that the Palestinian President was perfectly fine with this ideaof not having the United States as the only interlocutor for a peace process.’’

Asked by Laurence Norman, Brussels correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, if Mogherini implied that President Trump should not come out with his own peace plan, the EU foreign policy chief replied : ‘’What I am saying is that it is quite clear by now – something that for us Europeans has always been clear, that no credible talks and negotiations between the Israeli and the Palestiniens will happen if it is imagined as U.S. only effort, but also that no effort will ever bring the two sides at the table if  the international  multilateral framework does not include the United States. The US alone would not make it, the international community without the United States would not make it.’’

Israel has consistently said that it opposes an international Mideast peace conference, like in January 2017 when France launched such initiative in Paris.

‘’We support bilateral talks and we know that the only way to make progress is by talking directly to the Palestinians, not introducing a multiplicity of factors,’’ said at the time Israel’s foreign inistry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.

‘’If we participated in such a conference we would have to cater to the interests of all the countries participating in the initiative, and some of those countries have anti-Israel positions. There’s absolutely no reason we should make those countries partners in this process.’’

A senior White House official said last week that European countries do not think they can replace the United States as the main broker of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as he poured cold water on efforts by Abbas to court the EU as a replacement for the US.

“There isn’t a single European country or other country we’ve spoken to since the December 6 announcement (by President Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital) that in any way, shape or form believes a US-led process could be replaced,” the US official. “They all want to work with the US, despite the Palestinian reaction.”

Since Trump’s Jerusalem decision last month, the Palestinian leadership has refused to meet with US officials on peace talks and has repeatedly said the US can no longer be an honest mediator in the conflict.

“I don’t think anybody believes the US can be replaced in this process,” the official said. “Frankly, I don’t believe the Palestinians believe the US can be replaced in this process.”

The position echoed the stance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said the Palestinians don’t want peace if they refuse to work with the US.

 

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